Autism Spectrum Disorders

June 23, 2011

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in every 110 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Even PBS’ “Arthur” cartoon is airing a storyline this year about Carl, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.

Among the recent headlines is the fact that the American Psychiatric Association is proposing changes to some definitions of the diagnoses for autism. The revamped definitions will appear in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which serves as the primary reference for most professionals working in the medical and psychiatric fields. One of the changes proposed by the APA is that Asperger’s Syndrome will now be included in the category of “autism spectrum disorders” (ASD).

What this means for parents of children with autism

Dr. Patricia Evans, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Medical Center who trained at Johns Hopkins in autism spectrum disorders, said: “The changes mean there is far greater sensitivity on the part of all clinicians and educators who depend upon the DSM as to which children qualify for services. Because the diagnostic criterion is increasingly broad, it will allow those children who were able to compensate, though still struggle with significant problems, to receive critically important services early in life. Studies continue to show that, as with all developmental issues, the earlier a child can receive services, the better the long-term outcome will be.”

Dr. Evans, an associate professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, also said while the causes of autism have not yet been fully determined, there is a great deal of research that is hopeful.

Children’s researching medication, brain function

For example, a national autism database has been created to coordinate the many research projects under way nationally and internationally. Research is essentially divided into two groupings: the first finding out how brains in children with autism develop differently from children without autism, and the second directed at finding optimal medication and non-medication approaches to best help people with autism.

Currently, researchers at Children’s and UT Southwestern are involved in multiple studies looking at both types of research.

Children’s offers Neurodevelopmental services

Through the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDD) clinics at Children’s, families can seek help in better understanding their child and whether autism is a neurological concern. They are encouraged to call 214-456-2768, where they provide diagnosis and medical management for children with all types of cognitive delays, including autism.

Children’s also provides school consultation and educational programming through the School Services department.